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The maintenance (or not) of polygenic variation by soft selection in heterogeneous environments
On the basis of single-locus models, spatial heterogeneity of the environment coupled with strong population regulation within each habitat ( soft selection) is considered an important mechanism maintaining genetic variation. We studied the capacity of soft selection to maintain polygenic variation for a trait determined by several additive loci, selected in opposite directions in two habitats connected by dispersal. We found three main types of stable equilibria. Extreme equilibria are characterized by extreme specialization to one habitat and loss of polymorphism. They are analogous to monomorphic equilibria in singe-locus models and are favored by similar factors: high dispersal, weak selection, and low marginal average fitness of intermediate genotypes. At the remaining two types of equilibria the population mean is intermediate but variance is very different. At fully polymorphic equilibria all loci are polymorphic, whereas at low-variance equilibria at most one locus remains polymorphic. For most parameters only one type of equilibrium is stable; the transition between the domains of fully polymorphic and low-variance equilibria is typically sharp. Low-variance equilibria are favored by high marginal average fitness of intermediate genotypes, in contrast to single-locus models, in which marginal overdominance is particularly favorable for maintenance of polymorphism. The capacity of soft selection to maintain polygenic variation is thus more limited than extrapolation from single-locus models would suggest, in particular if dispersal is high and selection weak. This is because in a polygenic model, variance can evolve independently of the mean, whereas in the single-locus two-allele case, selection for an intermediate mean automatically leads to maintenance of polymorphism.
genetic polymorphism, genetic variance, heterogeneous environments, quantitative traits, soft selection
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